In 1915-16, the Maltese football league was not held. No ground was available because tents were installed in the Mile End Ground to accommodate some of the hundreds of wounded soldiers who were being brought to Malta from the battle-zones of the First World War.
Fortunately, during the summer of 1916, the ground was cleared of the tents and other hospital equipment which encumbered the pitch. This left the way clear for the MFA to organise its competition for the 1916-17 season.
Six teams took part in the league. Ħamrun Spartans, Valletta United and Sliema Wanderers were members of the old guard. Floriana did not take part. St George’s however, made a welcome return to league football after an absence of two seasons.
Up to 1916-17, the Saints had only won the Cup in 1911-12 when they defeated St Joseph’s United of Msida 3-0 in the final. For a club with such an awesome reputation in the local game, this was a very meagre reward.
Therefore, when their rivals, Floriana failed to form a team their prospects looked bright and rosy.
Floriana’s players were scattered amongst the other teams.
St George’s made the best acquisition when they signed Ruġġieru Friggieri.
The seething rivalry which existed between the Cospicua and Floriana camps made it next to impossible that a Greens’ player would sign for St George’s.
Friggieri however, was a professional and above all a mercenary and he always let his pocket and not his heart guide him in his decisions.
Two of the league’s favourites, Ħamrun Spartans and St George’s met on November 5, 1916.
Ħamrun did all the early running and it was according to the run of play when they led 1-0 at half-time.
During the second half, however, the roles were reversed and it was now St George’s that took the initiative.
The Saints made many attempts to draw level but luck was against them and they could not score. The Spartans were now the hot favourites to win the championship but in their very next game, they were surprisingly held to a 2-2 draw by Valletta United.
Disappointed and dejected, St George’s faced Vittoriosa Rovers in their second match of the competition.
The Rovers were a very weak side but against their neighbours they lifted their game and the Saints could only win with the narrowest of margins. Their only goal was scored by their super-star Ruġġieru Friggieri from the penalty spot.
The Saints then stepped up their challenge with another 1-0 victory against Floriana Liberty.
St George’s met Sliema Wanderers on December 22, 1916. The Saints beat the Blues 2-0 to give their beleaguered supporters an early Christmas present. Then, they beat Valletta United 1-0 on January 14, 1917 to overtake Ħamrun at the top of the table.
St George’s, however, could be overtaken if Ħamrun beat Sliema in their last match. A draw would have brought the Spartans and St George’s on equal points, while a win for the Wanderers meant they would have to play a decider against St George’s.
On the day of the big match, every inch of space in the Mile End Ground was packed with enthusiastic supporters.
The crowd filled the surrounding walls of the ground and the roofs of the dressing-rooms and bars.
Outside the ground there was another large crowd each waiting for an opportunity to scale up to the place vacated by some unfortunate supporter who had to climb down because of the tiring position he had taken.
The match started with Sliema on the attack and after only ten minutes Colley gave them the lead.
Ten minutes later, Carmelo Inglott scored again to put them on velvet but Ħamrun hit back strongly.
Three times the Spartans had the ball in the net but each time the referee disallowed the goals for some infringement.
Not surprisingly the Spartans lost their heads. Trouble erupted between the players and it was a miracle that the game was continued.
At the end, however, Sliema still had their two-goal advantage.
In the days and weeks after this game, a lot of arguments arose between the MFA and Ħamrun Spartans regarding the control of the referee.
It was all to no avail, however. The result stood and nearly a month later, on March 4, 1917, the Wanderers met St George’s in the decider.
Another great match was anticipated but unfortunately an authentic account of this game does not exist. All that we know is that St George’s won the game 4-0 to win their first and only championship in the history of the club.
One can imagine the joy and enthusiasm of the Saints’ fans.
Never before, had the old city of Cospicua seen such rejoicing.
I know from old-timers authentic testimony that when the team arrived home with the Aitken Cup bands of supporters wearing the colours of Cospicua danced and capered in the streets of the city accompanied by the local band of St George.
It was a scene rarely if ever seen again in Cospicua. A few weeks later the Saints completed a great season when they defeated Valletta United 1-0 in the Cousis Shield final.